Wednesday, October 11, 2006


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Book Review: State Of Denial, by Bob Woodward
By Thomas Riggins

State Of Denial
Bob Woodward,
Simon & Schuster, 2006

The last sentence in Woodward’s new book is, "With all Bush’s upbeat talk and optimism, he had not told the American public the truth about what Iraq had become."

Why this is the case and how it had become so Woodward attempts to explain in the forty-five chapters leading up to this conclusion. The focus is on individuals, their personalities and foibles, arrogance and ignorance and how they led the nation into a military and political fiasco in the Middle East. The unanswered question is did Bush not tell the truth consciously or unconsciously. Did he lie or is just blind to the reality all around him, and if so is that blindness due to his intellectual shortcomings or because his immediate subordinates, such as Rumsfeld and Cheney have consistently misled him. If the latter is the case then have they done so consciously or unconsciously?

The answers to these questions can be found in the book, but you will have to dig them out for yourself. Woodward does not delve much below the surface of individual personalities in conflict. The surface reveals that we are losing the war in Iraq because we learned nothing from Vietnam, were arrogant and over confident, ignorant of any other culture except our own, racist, and assumed we could not possibly be defeated by the Arabs in Iraq. Lyndon Johnson’s "raggedy ass peasants" and Winston Churchill’s "naked fakir" still lie at the basis of the American ruling class’s conception of Third World people.

The stage is set for this tragedy with an opening line from Bush as he decides to run for President. "I don't have the foggiest idea about what I think about international, foreign policy." Someone or some group will have to lift that fog. Unfortunately for Bush and the world they lifted the fog of ignorance only to allow the fog of war to roll in.

Bush's ignorance, and lack of interest, in foreign affairs is only one of several deadly factors that will come into conjunction and spawn the Iraqi debacle Equally causative was the fateful choice of Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of war A man with a mission "to change the entire U.S. military, transform it into a leaner, more efficient, more agile, more lethal fighting machine." We find that he followed this course regardless of any advice he was given by his staff, civilian or military, in the Pentagon. He also held Congress in contempt. A bad sign for democracy. It is Rumsfeld's basic incompetence, and Bush's inability to see it, that is a major factor in the American failure as portrayed in the book. In reality, however, the basic project was flawed from the start. The whole neocon philosophy of war in Asia against Iraq was born of profound ignorance of the peoples and cultures of the region. A competent Secretary of Defense would have been one who vetoed the idea in the first place.

It was Clemenceau who said that war was too important to be left to the generals But Rumsfeld is no Cleamenseau. Woodward quotes one of the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as saying, "Military advice is compromised by the political leadership. It doesn't emerge."

The book recounts how the Bush administration brushed off intelligence warnings of an impending terrorist attack and how after 9/11 Bush decided to drive the Taliban out of Afghanistan since they had allied themselves with Al-Queda, the group claiming credit for the attack. Woodward also says that it was 71 days after 9/11 that Bush set in motion the plans to attack Iraq (which the U.S. did 16 months later). But he does not provide much background analysis. The impression is that Bush thought Iraq had WMD and could use them against the US and its allies. There is no indication that the intelligence was "cooked" to justify the war and the suggestion is that Bush was acting in good faith but uninformed.

Rumsfeld decided to use the Iraq war as his test model for the new lean, mean fighting machine. The "Powell Doctrine" of using overwhelming force to ensure victory, devised by Colin Powell when he was head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was abandoned and replaced by what can only be called the "Rumsfeld Doctrine" of the use of underwhelming force blitzkrieg style. The assumption here being we would be welcomed as "liberators" and not seen as imperialist "occupiers." The sad reality is that this is just how the leadership in the Bush administration saw itself.

Totally blind to how the people of the Middle East saw the US-- as the enabler of Israel in its oppression of the Palestinians, as the supporter of dictatorships that repressed their own people (Saddam had been an American ally for years) just as long as "American" [read "Corporate"] interests were benefited, and as basically hypocritical and anti-democratic--
the Bushites embarked on a military adventure that no sensible person, knowledgeable about the Middle East would have recommended. The depth of the ignorance, including the highest reaches of the academic world and the government is incredible.

Bush, who had no knowledge of foreign affairs by his own admission, suddenly saw himself as leading a Crusade for Freedom throughout the world-- starting with Afganistan and Iraq and intending to follow up with the "Axis of Evil"-- Syria, Iran and North Korea, and also adding Cuba to the list.

Where did his ideas come from? "You are what you read," Churchill said. And, if you don't read all that much you are what you listen to. Who had the President's ear?

Woodward tells us that during the bombing campaign of Afghanistan, the deputy secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz, decided to put together a clandestine "think tank" to draw up a philosophical program for the government to follow in response to 9/11 and the brave new world in which the administration believed we needed to live.

Wolfowitz turned to the American Enterprise Institute to use as the basis for his think tank. The AEI is an ultra-right intellectual adjunct of corporate America. According to People for the American Way, most of its board are CEOs from big business: ExxonMobil, Motorola, American Express, Enron (the late Ken Lay), Dow Chemical, etc., and it has such outstanding "scholars", fellows, and champions of democracy as Lynne Cheney, Newt Gingrich, Robert Bork, Charles Murray [author of "The Bell Curve" -- there are IQ differences between the races] and Ben Wattenburg [PBS blowhard].

A dozen denizens of this foul tank were dredged up to concoct the foreign policy potion for Bush to quaff. They included Bernard Lewis, Fareed Zakaria (of Newsweek), talking head Fouad Ajami, and a Rumsfeld consultant (Steve Herbits). This secret cabal of the ultra-right came up with "a seven-page, single-spaced document, called 'Delta of Terrorism' [as in river delta]'." Woodward was not allowed to see it but the head of AEI "was surprised at the consensus among" the group." The fact that he picked a group of virtual ultra-right clones did not give him a clue about the reason for this consensus, which boiled down to "We're facing a two-generation war. And start with Iraq."

And so, this complete fabrication of the right-wing brain set was "hand-delivered to the war cabinet members." Woodward reports that "it had a strong impact on President Bush, causing him to focus on the 'malignancy' of the Middle East." What Woodward doesn't say is that Wolfowitz and other neocons had the invasion of Iraq on their agenda for years, way before Bush even thought of running for President. It was not an idea that popped up after 9/11.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you apply to reality an artificial philosophical system, in this case the neoconservative interpretation of history, that reality will blow up in your face. This is what has happened in Iraq and, as the book reveals, the Bush Administration and Bush himself are so driven by ideological commitments that it is impossible for them to understand what is going on.

They have been defeated. They have failed to establish "democracy" (how could they have established it, they don't believe in it themselves as their actions in Haiti and towards Venezuela show as well as Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004), failed to lessen the threat of terrorism in the world, and failed to make America "safer" as their own intelligence reports indicate. Yet faced with this obvious reality they speak of "turning the corner," "victory is in sight," etc.

But what can you expect from a White House that announced right before the war that, with respect to WMD in Iraq, "We know for a fact that there are weapons there." There were not any weapons and many other "facts" that have been put forth are equally bogus.

The book goes into great detail about how L. Paul Bremer messed up the occupation while he was proconsul or viceroy in Iraq by applying ideologically driven notions to the real conditions on the ground in Iraq-- notions that did not match the facts and made the situation worse for both the Americans and the Iraqis. The two greatest blunders were disbanding the entire Iraqi army and purging anyone who had been a member of the Ba'ath party. These two actions practically guaranteed a large and potent insurgency against both the foreign occupation and the imposition of a government dominated by returning exiles.

There is a lot more damaging information in the book. One shocker is that the war criminal Henry Kissinger is still going to the White House and giving Bush his opinions. Bush is said to be greatly influenced by them. They turn out to be the same old rotten ideas he peddled to Nixon about what should have been done in Vietnam. He wants Bush to "stay the course." They will stay the course right up until we see on TV the last American helicopter flying our ambassador out of the Green Zone while the Iraqi insurgents finally occupy it.

It is also distressing to learn that General Pace, the current head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff still thinks Iraq had something to do with 9/11! Here is how he backed the war, speaking to Woodward: "I do not have doubt about what we have done. We did not do this. When we were sitting home minding our own business, we got attacked on 9/11." The man who heads the world's largest military machine, with troops stationed all over the world, a force that imposes blockades and no fly zones and threatens to intervene in other countries, describes all this as sitting home and minding our own business. That is ludicrous. As is using 9/11 still to justify the political and. military blunder of the Iraqi war. I feel sorry for any soldiers that serve under him.

This is Woodward's third book on the Bush administration. It is also the most critical. The scales have finally fallen from his eyes and now maybe they will fall from the 40% or so of Americans who still, truly blindly, support Bush and share his State of Denial.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor for Political Affairs and can be reached at

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